Netscape is knee-deep in user complaints about Communicator's compatibility with non-Netscape Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP) servers, raising questions about who is responsible for fine-tuning the implementation of evolving standards.
Recent user chats have unearthed Communicator performance problems with non-Netscape mail servers.
Netscape is issuing an enhancement patch for a few bugs and says Communicator performs well with the University of Washington's published list of IMAP mail servers - the "core" market.
But some users and competitors don't buy Netscape's response that the servers experiencing problems aren't widely used.
"It's not ready for prime time," says one administrator, who requested anonymity.
Adding to Netscape's difficulties is the fact that, unlike the POP3 mail and browser markets, a server vendor can't tune an IMAP product to specific test clients. For example, developers can optimise products for Eudora's POP3 mail client or Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers and be confident that they will perform well across other products, analysts say.
Competitor NetManage, which has sold its Zmail IMAP mail client for two years, acknowledged that IMAP implementation is "especially tricky" because it allows substantial coding freedom.
"We experienced the same problems Netscape is now - for example, with the fact that IMAP doesn't define how to treat hierarchical folders," says Michael Kupferman, senior software engineer for the IMAP4 development team at NetManage, in Haifa, Israel.
Kupferman says it's tempting for vendors to ignore server implementations that don't affect a large proportion of sites.
"We could have said, `We're 90 percent there; that's good enough,' - but it's not," Kupferman says. "It's not up to us to predict what our customer base is going to use at a certain moment or where the market will turn."
SIDEBAR: Another Fix
By Amy Doan and William Ginchereau
Netscape is preparing a fix for a Proxy Server 2.51 bug that allows users to download restricted files, officials said. The server includes a MIME filter function for controlling download rights for specific file types, including .ZIP and .EXE. But the InfoWorld Test Center found that the filter fails under some circumstances. As a work-around, administrators must create and save a new filter. Netscape will fix the bug in two weeks, in an planned update.